The Danger of Thinking Out Loud

We love our house. Well, maybe love is too strong a term, but it certainly fills our needs, is nicer than what 90% of the global population live in, and  we’ve lived in it for about 15 years so, perhaps we really like it is a better way to state the case.

We have real estate on the brain however, because we are in the process of putting my 86 year old mother’s home on the market with the intention for her to move in with or closer to us so we can help her manage this segment of her life. Doctors visits, the occasional emergency room trip, groceries, car repair, home repair, general stuff of life that, although she is a very energetic 86, still presents challenges or minor complications.  Being the youngest son, and the best looking I might add, it falls to me to stand in the gap for mommasita.

My wife is a lurker. She is Mrs. Cravitz on steroids.  If the reference means nothing to you, just research the 70s TV show Bewitched and the busybody neighbor peeping through the blinds and you’ll have my sugerbooger.  She’s not malicious or conspiratorial in any manner.  She just keeps up with what goes on in the neighborhood…..with everyone…..all the time. Couple this with a husband who could barely care less about the goings on of the neighbors, within reason, and she is often frustrated in her informational efforts to update me.

So it was no surprise that she was watching the Realtor pages for every new addition that hits the market in our area. In our conversations, it come up that there is a house just a couple streets over in another neighborhood, that is larger, has four bedrooms, a mother-in-law area and is selling dirt cheap. Turns out the place is so cheap because it was built in 1970….and hasn’t been updated since. This is 70’s decorating at its height.  I’m talking green gold formica, wood paneling, mother-of-pearl in resin counters in the master, deep ocean blue carpet in the formal living area and God save us from robin’s egg blue bath fixtures and the list could go on.  Not to worry, I can look past all of that because I’m thinking excellent candidate to gut and renovate this monkey, still keeping a big chunk of equity, earn even more equity, keep a house note at the same level we are now and have a much larger home with the option for mom to hang with us should she decide that is the route she wanted to go.

So let me say it again.  We really like our home.  Sure we would tweak a little here or there but as Yoda would say, “Satisfied, we are”. We do not HAVE to sell our home. For any reason. It is NOT a gotta do this.  This was just one of those moments where I saw what would seem to be a really good deal and a unique opportunity for us to do something better all the way around and still keep the budget sound.

So we go look at the house. With a realtor. Who happens to be from our church. Great guy. Fairly aggressive.

I’m not sure how many times I reiterated that I don’t have to sell my home, am not looking to sell my home, this was just a fact finding mission to see if this might be something we wanted to consider.  I quit counting after about 10 times and we were in the car still trying to back out of the driveway.

I wasn’t wasting the man’s time. Had things checked out or confirmed what I thought about the house layout, we would have gotten pretty serious pretty quick. However, this is the danger of thinking out loud. Problem was we couldn’t, or perhaps didn’t feel it appropriate for us to, just walk up to the house and ask the old lady, “Hey, can we nose around your house for a half hour and see if we might want to think about buying it.  Asking the realtor was the way to go but we told him up front what we were thinking. Operative word being, thinking. our motives were pure and intentions honorable. We’re just thinking out loud.

Thinking is not action. Action is action. Movement is action. Thinking simply infers intention which can change as easily as the wind direction.  Now I have this really sweet real estate guy following me around like a puppy asking what am I looking for, where would I like to be, what is my price range and on and on and on. Plus a weekly encounter at church where we’ll be asked persistently about our plans. Remember, I don’t have to nor necessarily want to sell my home. It was just one of those lightning flashes that caught our eye and we thought, what if.

That’s what I get for “thinking” well intentioned thoughts.

A young man once said, “The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions”.  I see this daily.  Not only in the lives of those I interact with but in my own walk as well.  Sadly, what most Christians are called to these days is not so much an abiding faith in a Savior who can change our lives in amazing ways, but to think these thoughts and do these things and ask what’s in it for me.  Good intentions, but falling just short of what I believe God is asking us to commit to.

I believe, and the scripture will back me up here, we, I am, being called to be a disciple first. A person who seeks to know God and His Son more deeply today than yesterday. Not just a doer.  Note I didn’t say doer of the word. I see folks being brought into the church all the time and told, so glad you are here, can you teach, can  you serve here, can you do this or that? Many are able and are truly disciples of Christ, but sadly, many more are still getting their feet under them in a sense to know who and what Christ is in their life. So they serve, or teach, or do and ultimately they are lead to believe that “doing something” is what the Christianity thing is all about and the person behind it all, the purpose behind it all is unknown or not fully understood.  So when temptation comes, they are not strong enough. When they get burned or burned out, faith let them down. It wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.

A person who knows the discipleship of Christ in their life will serve, will teach, will meet the needs of the broken and hurting around them. It won’t be on a punch list. It will be done because their hearts compel them to do it. Because their hearts are so full of what God is doing in them that it is overflowing and drowning them.  Because Jesus loved them so much and did the same for them that they can’t think of any other thing to do but love other people. They will see an opportunity for something and they will go to it. They won’t have to change where they are or what they are doing perhaps. They just want to be a part of that thing for the glory of God. To show His greatness because He was great to them in so many ways.  In the greatest way.

So here’s to living out loud. To knowing who we are in Christ first, and keeping open to what He places in our path so we can love others at least a fraction of the massive measure He gives to us. To seeing the opportunity to love another the way Christ loves us and taking a flyer.  Doing is great and honorable and worthy and needed. Doing from a heart that is generating an overflow because of the influence of Christ is the key.

It’s just a shame I have to let the realtor in on the idea.

A Grateful Father

Father’s day has come and gone. It was a good Father’s day. A gift or two. Nothing spectacular event wise. Just a quiet day at home with the kids.  There was video game time with the boy and story and Bible study time with the girl. She had a special time with dad this morning at after school care where they had a Dad’s and Donuts get together. Nothing fancy, just a time for the kids to serve dad a doughnut and sit together and just be present.

It was definitely present. Baby girl, who is nine by the way, served me a doughnut and some water and sat with me. We colored on the table paper and talked a little about what the day would hold for us both.

Every dad thinks his daughter is beautiful. Known fact. They may not say it but they all do.  Mine is no exception. She is adorable inside and out. What’s more is she knows it. This is how she signs all her cards to me.  “From your adorable Bailey…”  What a ham. I take every opportunity to tell her she is beautiful.  She won’t measure up to the corporate, global mishmash of what beauty is in the world at large. But she will know her value as a young woman. Her daddy will set that exchange rate and it will be steep. I pray she won’t give herself cheap to some boy because she thinks it’s the physical that denotes love. She’s a sweet girl but she can be sneaky mean and tough as an anvil when she feels like she is being taken advantage of. God help the boy that breaks her heart. He’s likely to have a broken nose for his lack of concern for her feelings.

So as I’m sitting at work in the midst of the madness that is a Monday in the work world, I was struck, suddenly and profoundly by the blessings of my wife, my son and my daughter. I had no other response but to stop what I was doing, bow my head and express my gratitude to my God for these amazing gifts. Deep is the love I have for them and deep is the awe in which I stand wondering if God really knew what He was doing giving me these lives to shape and share. Surely, I am not worthy of such things. Wretched as I am. Weak and broken and flawed.

Deep is the gratitude on this day after father’s day for these gifts, and all things, good, bad and indifferent in my life. For God is using these things, all of them, to shape me into the man he wishes for me to be. The man he created me to be. The father, the husband, the son.

Yea, it was a GREAT Father’s day. Best one yet, because THE father reminded this father of the blessings he has given me and the joy of it all in my life.

A Hike by Any Other Name…

Thoughts running like the waters of the river over the folds of my mind. Too many to count and too much to try and keep up with. This is going to be harder than I thought. To post up the experiences and thoughts of this one trip. This will be little more than a trip report of sorts. I will have to sort through so much more and process so much more before I can post further and in more depth.

First, as a section hike, this was a miserable failure. I’ll explain as we go and hopefully it will make sense.  As a hike/camp to think on deeper issues in my faith and life, it was an unqualified success.  This will be explained later in other posts.

The trip started with such promise and anticipation. Sitting in the airport in my home town waiting to catch a flight that would take me farther away from the AT to ultimately get me closer to the AT. This is the nature of modern, post 9/11 air travel. I had to fly from MS to Houston to get to Atlanta. Metal meat tubes more than rapid transit. Shoved together like sardines surrounded by impatient, irrational, self-important grouses. I forgot how much I hated air travel. I calmed myself by doing a mental count down of the hours when I would be on a trail, THE trail, with no one around. Just the sound of my feet, the wind and the woods. The thought was transcendent.  Landing in Atlanta, waiting another 45 minutes to get my pack, which thankfully, made it without issue or blemish, I was continually asked about my kilt. One guy asked where’d I get it. Another lady asked if I got asked, well, “the question” alot. I told her there were two standard responses to “the question”. First, “There’s nothing worn down there…everything is in perfect working order.” and lastly, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”  Admittedly, not a proper response from a Christian male, but I admit that I’m fallen and only use it when I know I won’t be taken up on the offer nor will it embarrass the quixotic too much.  Seriously, why do women feel they can ask such a question of a man in a kilt. I’d get slapped stupid-er, asking that of women. Just one more of life’s nagging questions.  I even had one chap ask me if I was in the military and British. No, just a civilian and Scots-Irish. He still liked the look.

Got picked up promptly by my ride. I highly recommend Ron Brown’s shuttle service.  He is timely, knowledgeable and a kick in the pants to talk to. He won’t do you wrong.  Tell him the guy he shuttled to the NOC that looked like Stone Cold Steve Austin recommended him.  He’ll get the joke and a laugh.

With all the flight delay, luggage delay and traffic in Atlanta delay I was, you guessed it, delayed in getting to the trail when I had hoped.  The original plan was to get to Sassafras Gap Shelter, just under 7 miles, by sunset or really close to it.  I got to the NOC a little before 6 p.m.  Having only about two hours of daylight left I was determined to get as far into the trail as possible and see where I was from there to get to Fontana Dam by Sunday.

Let me first say that I have read dozens of  AT Thru hike books. Most are really good. My respect level for these persons who have gone from Georgia to Maine in a single season was very high. These are rock stars to me. They are other worldly in their stature and lore now.

The climb out of the Nantahala Gorge is, in a word, steep.  I have no other reference except to say it’s like climbing stairs in a 300 story building, minus the nice steps.  Unless you consider rocks and mud and roots “nice steps”. Also minus the air conditioning and cover overhead and anything else remotely resembling the marks of civilization.  Now before you think me a complete idiot given to irrational justification of conditions to be expected on the trail, it was everything I expected and wanted it to be, only more. Let’s say by a factor of 7.  Beauty that I cannot give words to. The scale of it all was beyond my imagination. Photos are not worthy of it. The climb out. Exhausting. I managed to get about a mile and a quarter in about an hour and a half. Winded doesn’t describe it. I’d have sworn I could do a COPD commercial on the spot. Elephant included. I think he was hiding in my pack.  I found a small spot on the ridge where I could hang my hammock. I didn’t put up my tarp or hang my food.  I didn’t even eat. I went straight to bed and slept from around 8 p.m. until about 5:30 a.m. the next day.

This was my fault. I should have stayed at the NOC that night and gotten a fresh start the next day. Still, I was on the trail and happy about it. The next morning I was determined to make up ground. I wanted to get to Sassafras Shelter and then get to Brown’s Gap Shelter or as close to it as I could. Problem 1?  I’m still going up. At least to Sassafras, then it would be basically down hill from there. Problem 2? I would have to do close to 14 miles that day to meet that goal. That is insane for a novice on day two of the trail he is supposed to be having fun on. Problem 3? It hurts. I figured it would be my knees who would betray me. Maybe even the high ankle sprain I had a few weeks prior to leaving. Neither of these were an issue. Not even my feet gave me trouble.  The hips. At one point it felt like a hot piece of rebar had been inserted into my hips longitudinally. Burning pain with every step, out of wind, and out of time. I was reduced at times to hiking to the next switch back for a goal. Or the next blaze or the next flat spot. Mostly 150 to 200 feet at a time, rest, pray, buck up, hike another 200 feet, repeat. I got to Sassafras Gap Shelter around lunch. I ate, got water, and thought, alot. Too many miles to get to Fontana in my condition, or should I say lack of condition. Too little time to get where I wanted to be and too little known about how I might get off the trail to meet the wife and kids by Sunday for the vacation with them.  I had passed a couple small campsites coming into the shelter back up the ridge. I decided to hike to one of those spots, hang the hammock, eat and sleep.  A fresh mind and perspective would yield the proper answer in the morning.

Luckily I had hung my tarp this time as a sweetheart of a thunderstorm rolled over the mountains that night just shortly after I went to bed. The wind blew hard swaying the trees but rocking me gently in the hammock. Thunder and lightning crashed but I was protected under the ridge from any real danger and the rain, in just a few short minutes played me a lullaby as sweet as mother’s milk. A fine deep sleep, as always, in the hammock.

The next morning had me thinking fresh thoughts and coming to grips that Fontana was not going to happen with my hips in their current state. I decide to head back to the NOC and see what I could do there to salvage the trip. I had about 5 miles to go and almost all of it down hill.  I nearly lost it a few times because of the slick trail from the previous nights rain but the better part of caution, my hiking sticks and the grace and mercy of the Lord God Almighty kept me from injury and any real peril.

As I was hiking the last half mile into the NOC shortly after noon, at the base of the ridge about twenty feet up from the river was a campsite. Open with a fire ring and trees that looked just far enough apart for me to hang my hammock.  I had decided to go to the NOC, see about a campsite or cabin and just camp for the next day until my family could pick me up on Sunday. First order of business…FOOD. I had eaten my own cooking for just a couple days and it was good. Really good. But I wanted something more substantial. Something someone else had made for me and not in a freezer bag.  Pizza at the River’s Edge was the right salve to sooth that ache and I took my time with it.  It was glorious.  Next out the door and across the street to the General Store to inquire about campsites. To my surprise the clerk stated they didn’t have campsites on the campus to offer.  I asked about the site I had seen back up the river a bit, whether it was part of his lot and he said no.  That was all I needed to hear.  I couldn’t have asked for a better place to camp. Just a few yards from the river up on the bluff overlooking. Covered but not so much so that I couldn’t watch the rafters and kayakers float by.  I’d have give anything to have a banjo to play as they floated by.

So, as I said, as a section hike, an utter failure. I still had an excellent time. Truly, sincerely, an amazing time. For all the pain, unrealized expectations and logistical issues, it was something I will never regret. I had mentioned in other posts that this was a test of sorts. To see if I had it in me to do a through hike.  I discovered I am a hammock camper, not a hammock hiker.  I could day hike the devil out of the AT if I lived closer and may yet get the chance to do that. Who knows what things God has in store for this soul. However, multi-day hikes on a trail of this caliber is not in my cards.

When my wife met me on that Sunday, the kids running up to hug daddy, an awesome event in and of it self, she asked was I okay. I was. Physically I was still sound if not worn and I was good otherwise too.  I had come to grips with some things on the trail. I told her she wouldn’t have to worry about me doing another hike like this on the AT.  She was so gracious. She didn’t dance on the grave of my dream. She knew that was what it was. A dream I had held for some time and now it was not going to be the same. She’s a good woman, my wife. She let an old fool chase another woman called the AT and still return home when he learned she was a bitter mistress. Not fond of old bones and poor conditioning. She welcomed me home to her embrace with grace and dignity and allowed me to keep my dignity. She was sorry for my loss. She understood my simple sadness.  Later we would laugh together at the trials of the trail and how much I had learned in those four day.

So now I’ve spent nearly 2000 words telling you how hard it was.  What will I say about it all to sum it up?  GO!.  Do it!  Even if it hurts, it’s worth it. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Be in shape.  Don’t push too hard in the early stages, but go for it. The AT in the southern vernacular is a Heifer. She will break you.  Maybe not physically. Maybe mental.  Maybe emotional. But she will break you. In the brokenness there is something far more valuable. There is wisdom, clarity, peace, understanding. God used the AT to humble me in ways I needed to be humbled. I praise Him for it. I know myself better today than I have in the past decade.  What an amazing God, who creates the mountain to inspire and to teach. To break down and to build up. To humble and to strengthen. To strip away the duff to reveal the granite of a life built on Him.

So there ya go. The trip in a nut shell.  Now what?  Now, go take a hike.

Coming Soon

I apologize for the delay in the postings. I meet my wife and kids after the hike to vacation with them. She was to bring the laptop but she left it at home. I could have posted using the phone but it was more complicated than I wanted to deal with and, well, we were on vacation.

I hope to begin posting again details and thoughts on the hike and its aftermath later today or later in the week. There are mountains to climb in the real world of work and those have to be reduced before I can put proper thoughts in type for the world to see.

Suffice it to say, it was an adventure.  Not the one I intended but a great time none the less.

Nerves on edge

Thirty-six hours and counting. Holy time lines Batman! I’m going nuts right now.  I feel like there are still so many things to do at home and work before I leave. If I check my packing list one more time it’s going to have a moment of spontaneous combustion.

I know this is all in my head. The problem is everything is whirling around in there like a blender on frappe. Everything is spreading out like a supernova going in 5000 directions at once. This is why I hate taking vacations. It’s the seemingly never ending list of has this been covered.  Me trying to prepare my guys for every eventuality, every nuance of what might happen or this could come up. It’s maddening. I truly don’t have that much trouble once I leave the building. I have always been able to walk away from the job and leave it.  I’m usually good for about four days on vacation before I start to get the junkie’s itch feeling like I should get back at it.  That’s why this is messing with my head so badly.  I’ll be on the trail for four-and-a-half days before I technically set foot back into civilization.  Right on the mark of my usual D.T.s withdrawal. Then I meet the wife and kids for the “real vacation”.  The one where I am totally devoted to them and thinking only of what they want and making sure my kids have the time of their lives. Nothing is off limits. If we can physically do it, it’s on.

I can see myself slipping around the corner to check voicemails or emails or check on the guys and make sure such and such went okay. They refuse the call me with anything, which I appreciate and hate all at the same time. I’d rather know about it, know that I need to handle that when I get back, then file it away for the duration.  I truly can do that. If I have to walk back in and have stuff hit me from the jump like that…well…it just isn’t good.

Control issues? Really, you’re gonna say that to me? Maybe, to an extent, but that’s the beauty of the section hike. To get me out of the known and into the unknown. To push my own buttons and see what comes out. A friend of mine told he thought this could be a life changing experience.  I’m hoping he’s right.

I want to be different. More confident, less cocky.  More even minded, less judgmental. More humble, less proud.  I need to feel smaller on the planet. I need to be in a big place that can swallow me whole and never hiccup. I need to walk around in a suit of holiness, and by that I mean being set apart for a purpose, that has been ill fitting and dusty for far too long.

Scared? Oh what the hey, sure. A bit. Gonna let it show? Not if I can help it. I’m just gonna keep on keeping on. One foot in front of the other, and look for some lessons to learn both about hiking and about living.  Mostly about living. If I’m fortunate, I’ll have something that will stick with me for the rest of my life and allow me to be the better man, better husband and better father I hope constantly to be.

So ready for this to get underway. God, grant me all of that which you know I need the most.  Amen!

 

This is About to Get Real…

Seven days and counting.  That’s all I’ve got until I get on a plane and head for the ATL, hot lanta, the dirty south.  I’m not sure excited is the term I should use here. As I write this there is a nervous twirl in my stomach. Kind of like the anticipation before a first date. Waiting at the door for her to answer. Imagining what she’ll look like. Hoping I look okay. Check your fly son. Good, it’s up. Does my breath stink? No, whew, good. That twirl in the stomach.

This is definitely a first date with the AT. She has been a distant dream for so long. I’ve fantasized about her. Pondered her various twists and turns. Heard all the stories about how she always provides and how she’ll chew you up and spit you out. She’ll change your life. She’ll break your heart. All of that and I still want to meet her. Get to know her for myself. See if we are a match for a longer term relationship. Wow, this metaphor is really working for me right now.

So I’m just seven days from this first date.  Still lots to do. I have gone through my packing list, done a test pack and readied most of the food.  I still need to get a few more odds and ends together so I spent a few minutes this morning making a daily chore list of things to get done before I leave, color coded no less. I’ve still got to spray down all my gear with Permithrin prior to packing it for the final time.  This is to keep the ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes and other nastier bug life at bay to some level.  Between that and the Picaradin, a Deet alternative, I generally stay bug/pest free.  However, here again, the AT is an unknown. She may reject my selection of cologne and choose to treat me to the death of a thousand bug bites. There is still a pillow to be made, some few items still to pick up, plus packing the bag for the vacation with the family in hillbilly heaven.

Excited is not the word.  Anticipation, per chance.  Yes I know that implies a level of excitement. Just not sure if the AT is gonna be the girl for me. There is so much built up imagination.  She may turn out to be as beautiful as everyone says but I just won’t fall in love. She could be the proverbial girl with a great personality.

She could turn out to be like my wife.  When I first saw her I thought she was older than me. Having just dated a girl that was older than me, by several years, early cougar might apply, and that train wreck of an experience, I was not going to go down the older woman road regardless of the number of years or her beauty. When I realized she was actually a few years younger than me, well the hunt was on and, as they say, the rest is history. I won her heart and we are soul mates to say the very least. We’ll celebrate twenty years in marriage in October. If it weren’t for the fact we have two kids, the oldest being thirteen in October, we’d swear we’d have only been married less than ten. It’s still fresh, still fun, still hands down the best decision I ever made.

Should the AT be like my wife, I’m in trouble. Can’t shake my girl. I’m afraid if I can’t shake the AT. Does a 5 month fling with a strip of dirt and rock count as infidelity in a marriage? God I hope not.